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By Alex Carrigan
Breaking the Blank by Dwayne Lawson-Brown and Rebecca Bishophall
Breaking the Blank is a collaborative poetry collection from DC poets Dwayne Lawson-Brown and Rebecca Bishophall from Day Eight. The collection features poems by both poets that alternate throughout the collection’s five sections. Each section of the collection focuses on a different aspect of Black personhood, covering subjects like parenthood, relationships, and external factors like prejudice and racism.
The first section, “Breaking the Mold,” is a series of poems about parenthood. These poems alternate from being about parents looking after their young children to other levels of parenthood, such as grandparents. In this section, Bishophall’s pieces tend to be shorter and more anecdotal, while Lawson-Brown’s are longer and address more anxieties and fears that come from parenthood. This includes lines from Lawson-Brown’s “Twist for a Delinquent Dad,” which repeats the line “And am delinquent as a dad” with approaches to matters like hiring a babysitter or taking his child to work.
This continues to the next section, “Blank Space,” where both poets write pieces that are about anxiety that comes from how the body interacts with space. These poems tend to be longer and feature more structures to their verses, such as the rhyme scheme and repeated lines in Bishophall’s “Wind Release/She’s Grown So Thin” and “His Inspiration.” The former repeats lines like “she’s grown so thin” and the latter has multiple repeated lines and restructured stanzas to address a poet debating whether to write or knit.
The third section, “Fill in the Blank,” focuses on relationships, particularly in the details that come from indulgences. Many of the pieces play with gluttony and imbibing, such as Bishophall’s “Untitled 17” which follows two teens eating fried chicken in a basement. “I turn only to meet your lips. / They taste like chicken.” Lawson-Brown follows that with lines like “A blown shotgun kiss / Leads to a blown shotgun love / A shotgun passenger / Leads to a shotgun wedding / This feels like home” from his poem “Of Smoke and Memory.”
The final two sections “Breaking the Cycle” and “Breaking the Rules” deal with present experiences and real matters. The first section features poems that deal with the black body and how others respond to them. The poems begin with poems about hair and turn into poems about prejudice in restaurants and public transit. This includes contrasting poems like Bishophall’s “Pain Per Due” where she writes Embarrassment and prejudice / Go down easy / With blueberry compote / The French toast / Sweet as erasure / The tab / Covered in the price of my past,” follows by Lawson-Brown’s “Obligatory Black Poem” writes about a ride in an Uber that ends with the devastating line “…Black as me / In this motherfuckin uber / Because I still can’t hail a taxi. / Just trying to make it home safe / And remember to let someone know.”
However, the collection ends with poems that read as manifestos of both poets. Both Bishophall and Lawson-Brown’s poems cover some of the same matters in the 2020s, such as financial troubles and technological issues. Bishophall’s final poem repeats the line “I am failing / but haven’t quit,” and this rings true for most of the collection. The poems in Breaking the Blank are about being alive and finding pleasure in life, and with the alternating perspectives, this shows two different points of view and how they run differently and what similarities emerge.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.